Trail Blazers’ bench rises to the occasion in victory over Memphis Grizzlies: ‘So many great contributions’

The Portland Trail Blazers lost starting center Jusuf Nurkic less than three minutes into their game Wednesday night in Memphis. Starting power forward Jerami Grant’s night ended after suffering a second-half concussion.

For a team that doesn’t start out very deep, the Blazers seemed finished early in the second half. But appearances can be deceiving.

The Blazers, owners of the lowest-scoring bench in the NBA, got 36 points from their bench, 26 in the second half, to earn a 122-112 win at FedExForum.

“There are so many guys that came on and played so well for us,” Blazers coach Chauncey Billups told reporters in Memphis. “So many great posts.”

Not only did six reserves produce 36 points, 25 rebounds and six assists, but the group shot a total of 14 of 30 from the field (46.7%) and made 5 of 10 three-pointers. Not bad for a Blazers bench that averages 24.7 points per game.

Leading the way was backup center Drew Eubanks, who acted as a kind of starter as center Jusuf Nurkic left the game after less than three minutes with a calf injury that has plagued him for a couple of weeks.

Eubanks’ dunk from a Damian Lillard assist three minutes from time gave the Blazers a 106-105 lead. He then collected two assists from Lillard’s threes, grabbed an important rebound and ducked on a three-point play that increased the Blazers’ lead to 117-109 with 59 seconds remaining.

Portland Trail Blazers vs. Memphis Grizzlies

Jaren Jackson Jr. (13) of the Memphis Grizzlies blocks a shot from Trendon Watford (2) of the Portland Trail Blazers during the first half at FedExForum on February 1, 2023 in Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)Getty Images

“Drew was great tonight,” said Billups.

Eubanks had several strong performances from the bench but this was certainly one of his most impactful.

“He continues to do what he’s called to do every time we put them in there,” Billups said. “He just gives us so much fighting and so much tenacity and determination. He goes and gets hard rebounds for us and hard blocked shots.”

Trendon Watford has taken a backseat in the rotation lately while Billups has been experimenting with different lineups. But Billups said after a recent practice Watford was not out of favor. On Wednesday, Watford saw 21 minutes off the bench and had five points with three rebounds, two assists and a block.

According to Billups, Watford’s influence goes beyond the obvious statistical limits.

“This guy played an incredible game,” said Billups. “That’s why you can’t look at numbers on guys like Trendon Watford because his influence is just so big. His style of play. He did a good job at rebounding. If he couldn’t get it, he made sure his husband didn’t get it.”

Shaedon Sharpe scored nine points. Gary Payton II added seven. Nassir Little and Jabari Walker each had two points.

According to Anfernee Simons, the bench production made the night less difficult for the starters.

“It was pretty easy to go out there and just play normally because they were doing a whole bunch of games too,” Simons told reporters.

Billups said after the game he wasn’t sure how serious Grant and Nurkic’s injuries were.

“Hopefully it doesn’t take long for either of them,” Billups said.

— Aaron Fentress | [email protected] | @AaronJFentress (Twitter), @AaronJFentress (Instagram), @AaronFentress (Facebook). Subscribe to Oregonian/OregonLive newsletters and podcasts

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